Drug-sniffing Dogs?

The state of Hawaii’s Board of Education is considering a program that would use trained dogs to sniff out contraband on public school campuses across the state. Is this a good idea?

Mary Cochran
Board of Education member, Maui District

We have a compelling state interest to ensure the health and safety of our students in school, one that trumps any privacy rights. Education is not just about academics. You have to create a safe environment. When kids don’t want to go to the bathroom at school, that’s pretty bad. We’re trying to prevent that kind of situation by keeping drugs off the campuses.

And it’s not just drugs. It’s alcohol, it’s knives and guns. This program will really be a deterrent for students who want to bring these things to school. Once we expand the program statewide, and get the ability to use dogs to search students’ lockers, you will see the change.

The privacy rights of students are very narrow anyway. They have the right to object to unreasonable searches and things like that, but the schools own the lockers, and if principals think something weird is going on, they can go in and search the lockers anyway.

Hawaii would certainly not be the first jurisdiction to use contraband-sniffing dogs. There are similar programs in 48 other states that have been very narrowly tailored to pass constitutional muster. They’ve got it going on the Mainland, very successfully, so what’s wrong with doing it here?

Some have raised concerns about the cost of a statewide program, but if the program is worthwhile, we will find the money if we have to. We can get creative about funding this; there is always a way.

If anybody’s a liberal, I’m a liberal. I understand where the ACLU is coming from, but there are certain situations where you have to draw the line, and this is one of them. We need to level the playing field, if we’re ever going to catch any contraband on campus. This program would do that.

Lois Perrin
Legal Director, ACLU of Hawaii

The well-being of Hawaii’s students is best served by preserving their fundamental privacy rights, not abandoning those rights for a false sense of security. Students do not check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door. Making regular, unsubstantiated searches by contraband-sniffing canines flies in the face of this bedrock principle.

In addition to being costly and legally dubious, this program would deliver an abysmal civics lesson to our youth, eroding trust between students and teachers and undermining the sense of community so necessary to effective education. Schools should instead focus their efforts on providing fact-based education about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse, as well as counseling to students in need.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unsubstantiated searches. Sending dogs to randomly root around school campuses in the hope of uncovering contraband material is a clear affront to this essential liberty. While such fishing expeditions violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law, expanding these searches to include students’ lockers and personal effects, as envisioned by certain Board of Education members, ventures into legally questionable waters, exposing the school to potential liability for violating its students’ rights.

Even ignoring these constitutional concerns, conducting searches without cause is simply an ineffective policy. Schools already have the power to carry out comprehensive searches based on evidence of wrongdoing. It makes far more sense to train educators to identify and aid wayward individuals than to place the whole student body under surveillance, alienating the majority of students and pushing those at risk further from the help they need.

Our schools are charged with both protecting students today and providing them the tools to protect themselves in the future. Upholding and instilling respect for basic constitutional rights is critical on both accounts.


What do you think?  Weigh in at letters_honmag@pacificbasin.net.